Navigation Links
Study pits man v. machine in piecing together 425-million-year-old jigsaw
Date:11/16/2009

A new study pitting academic expertise against a computer in recreating a 425 million-year old jigsaw puzzle has discovered that there is no substitute for wisdom born out of experience.

The research tested the reliability of expert identification versus computer analysis in reconstructing fossils. The investigation, based on fossil teeth from extinct vertebrates, found that the most specialized experts provided the most reliable identifications.

University of Leicester researcher Dr Mark Purnell said: "Being a palaeontologist can be fun, but sometimes it isn't easy. Take vertebrates, the group to which we belong. When a vertebrate animal dies, whether it's a fish, a sabre-tooth cat or a dinosaur, the flesh rots away and the bones of the skeleton are usually scattered before being fossilised. In order to interpret them correctly, the palaeontologist must piece them back together, or at least work out which bits are which.

"This is difficult enough when you have modern relatives for comparison; but what if there's nothing alive today that's remotely like the extinct animal you need to analyse? It's exactly like doing a jigsaw puzzle without a picture."

This is what faces palaeontologists who study conodonts. Lead author David Jones, who carried out the study while at the University of Leicester, explains: "Earth's oceans teemed with conodonts for 300 million years; they were the most common vertebrates around, and they were the first to evolve teeth. In fact the conodont skeleton was all teeth: a basket of hacksaw-shaped blades which was extended out of the mouth to grab prey, behind which lay pairs of slicing blades and crushing teeth a set of gnashers straight out of Alien."

Ancient marine rocks are often packed with hundreds or thousands of scattered conodont teeth, with many species jumbled up together.

"To make matters worse, within any one animal, teeth from different parts of the skeleton looked almost identical! Now we have a jigsaw puzzle with no picture, where each piece could go in different places. But just so it's not too easy, conodont teeth are also microscopic, "said Dr Purnell, of the Department of Geology.

Traditionally, experts would wrestle with this puzzle based on their previous experience and comparison with more complete skeletons, but researchers investigated whether there is another way?

For the new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Palaeontology, David Jones and Mark Purnell, from the University of Leicester, teamed-up with Peter von Bitter from the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, to bring sophisticated statistical techniques to bear on solving this skeletal jigsaw. They used material from a 425 million year old rock deposit in Ontario, Canada which, unlike almost all other deposits in the world, preserves both scattered teeth and complete skeletons of conodonts. This material allowed them to compare the success rate of experts in placing the teeth in the correct positions within the skeleton, with the success rate of computer-based methods.

So how do the experts stack up against the machines? "Pretty well" says Jones. "This is reassuring for palaeontologists! but the computer-based approach did at least as well and was also consistent; experts disagreed amongst themselves, and less experienced palaeontologists, not surprisingly, made more mistakes.

"The statistical techniques therefore allow us to test and verify the conclusions drawn by palaeontologists, greatly increasing the confidence with which we can reconstruct the skeletons of extinct vertebrates. But it's not time to retire the experts; at least not yet..." say the researchers.


'/>"/>

Contact: Mark Purnell
mark.purnell@le.ac.uk
44-116-252-3645
University of Leicester
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. New study links vitamin D deficiency to cardiovascular disease and death
2. Largest gene study of childhood IBD identifies 5 new genes
3. Exploration by explosion: Studying the inner realm of living cells
4. Carnegie Mellon researchers to develop probes to study cellular GPS
5. CSHL study shows that some malignant tumors can be shut down after all
6. USC study finds big air pollution impacts on local communities
7. Singapore scientists join international study of 10,000 vertebrates genomes
8. Study points to new uses, unexpected side effects of already existing drugs
9. UIC receives $1 million grant to study fat taxes, diet, obesity
10. Study sheds light on evolution of human complexity
11. LSU ichthyologist lands major grant to study fish family history
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Study pits man v. machine in piecing together 425-million-year-old jigsaw
(Date:3/14/2016)... 2016 NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or the ... announces the airing of a new series of commercials on ... March 21 st .  The commercials will air on Bloomberg ... on the Street show. --> NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" ... commerce market, announces the airing of a new series of ...
(Date:3/11/2016)... 11, 2016 http://www.apimages.com ) - --> ... is available at AP Images ( http://www.apimages.com ) - ... used to produce the new refugee identity cards. DERMALOG will be ... CeBIT in Hanover next week.   --> ... be used to produce the new refugee identity cards. DERMALOG will ...
(Date:3/10/2016)... 2016 --> ... "Identity and Access Management Market by Component (Provisioning, Directory ... by Organization Size, by Deployment, by Vertical, and by ... The market is estimated to grow from USD 7.20 ... at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.2% ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/25/2016)... UTAH. (PRWEB) , ... May 25, 2016 , ... WEDI, ... healthcare information exchange, today announced that Charles W. Stellar has been named by the ... interim CEO since January 2016. As an executive leader with more than 35 years ...
(Date:5/24/2016)... ... , ... Last week, Callan Capital, an integrated wealth management firm specializing in ... San Diego Life Science event at the Estancia La Jolla Resort and Spa. , ... speakers Dr. Rich Heyman, former CEO of Aragon and Seragon, and Faheem Hasnain, former ...
(Date:5/23/2016)... , May 23, 2016 Oxitec CEO ... th at 10:15 a.m. ET before the United States ... genetically engineered mosquitos can play in controlling the spread of ... the Zika virus.      (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20150630/227348 ... mosquito with a self-limiting gene. Trials in Brazil ...
(Date:5/20/2016)... ... May 20, 2016 , ... The leading Regenerative Veterinary ... most experienced veterinary clients have treated over 100 of their own patients with the ... provide the highest level of care for their patients. , The veterinarians are ...
Breaking Biology Technology: